Just a few days ago, we wrote about a new “LACMA Not LackMA” architectural design competition – run by the protest group The Citizens’ Brigade to Save LACMA – for the big remodel of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The Brigade’s leaders contend that the design chosen by the museum, and soon to be under construction, is not the best path forward. They say the project will reduce instead of increase valuable gallery and display space, and will significantly hobble LACMA’s ability to display its vast collections. But the Brigade’s leaders also say they believe there’s a better path forward, and – to help prove it – they sent out a call for alternate designs a few weeks ago…and today announced the finalists in the juried competition. Six entries (out of a total of 28 from architctural firms around the world) have been selected for public review and voting at SaveLACMA.org.
In a statement about the designs, architecture writer and critic Greg Goldin, co-chair of the Citizens’ Brigade, said, “This collection of six designs represents the ideas the jury found most compelling…We are not proposing any one of them be built as-is, but that the public, the museum board, and the County Board of Supervisors view them as inspirations to consider alternatives that truly capture people’s eyes, hearts, and minds, and showcase the collections in a practical and architecturally stimulating environment that embodies—rather than usurps—LACMA’s purpose and spirit.”
Commenting further to the Buzz this morning, Goldin added, “Our view is that a competition is what should been done at the outset, 8 or 9 years ago. Anyone looking closely at the six ideas we’ve presented will quickly grasp that LACMA can be bigger, with more gallery space, a facade that contributes to the urban front of Wilshire Boulevard, connects more elegantly to the park and the cluster of Renzo Piano buildings to the West, and not least, doesn’t squander the Spaulding site.” [Editor’s note: LACMA’s new building, as designed by architect Peter Zumthor, will span Wilshire Blvd. and terminate on a lot on the south side of Wilshire at Spaulding Ave.]
According to this morning’s announcement, the six designs selected for public voting would specifically address several “major shortcomings” of LACMA’s chosen design…and would instead:
• Enlarge, rather than reduce, the exhibition square footage
• Build only on the current site, rather than bridge across Wilshire Boulevard
• Save money per square foot, as compared to the Zumthor plan, thereby allowing County funds to be used to better serve its citizens (especially during the COVID-19 crisis)
• Place curatorial concerns ahead of making a dictatorial architectural statement
• Provide flexible gallery interiors, not permanent concrete gallery walls
• Retain back-of-house services, including curatorial offices and library, rather than placing them off site
• Tie the Resnick Pavilion and BCAM into the new museum and embrace the La Brea Tar Pits Park and Museum
• Use conventional construction methods rather than expensive high-finish concrete
• Maintain the formal continuity of LA’s memorable Miracle Mile district along Wilshire Boulevard
With a bit more detail, here are the six finalist designs, divided into two categories – those which would build from the ground up, and those which would, instead, work with some existing architectural elements – with descriptions from the Citizens’ Brigade:
From the Ground Up
“LACMA Wing” by Coop Himmelb(l)au, Vienna
Emphasizing “an architecture that combines functionality with aspiration,” Coop Himmelb(l)au designed three main elements: landscape plinth and two, three-level “floating” gallery wings. Public circulation on ramps connecting the volumes would be encased by expressive amorphous forms whose openness to the outside refreshes the museum visiting experience. These public spaces are accessible without a ticket to the museum, but windows into the galleries are meant to entice people inside. The jury appreciated the curatorial flexibility of generous gallery spaces, with 22-foot floor-to-ceiling heights, the possibility of mezzanines and intimate galleries, and open floor plates. “This entry combines issues of great efficiency with moments of drama,” noted the jury. “The ‘bubbles’ offer exciting spaces that celebrate the public realm while connecting to straightforward, practical, functional galleries in the wings.”
“Unified Campus” by Paul Murdoch Architects, Los Angeles
To create greater institutional cohesion, Paul Murdoch Architects took a holistic approach to the entire LACMA campus and its relationship to the cultural institutions flanking it. The design, according to the architects, is “expressive of LA in its openness, multiplicity of urban, natural, and cultural connections, and abundant use of controlled natural light.” The jury noted how this horizontal skyscraper—an on-axis version of the neighboring tower across Wilshire—corresponds to the urbanism of the area. “It restores the continuity of the Wilshire Boulevard streetfront with a respectful attitude by placing the narrow part of the building facing the street and the broad side framing the park.” The east glass façade offers a strong, complementary visual connection to Hancock Park and the La Brea Tar Pits, and the west façade forms a long public plaza bordered by BCAM and the Resnick Pavilion, uniting the two campuses.
“HILLACMA” by TheeAe (The Evolved Architectural Eclectic), Hong Kong
TheeAe (The Evolved Architectural Eclectic) considers Los Angeles’ diversity when proposing the museum as “a new cultural platform that connects people from different walks of life,” by simultaeneously offering enclosed cultural spaces and an open, sculpted, outdoor landscape. The tall building (five levels plus garden roof) combines an undulating façade along Wilshire Boulevard to the south with “hill” element sloping into the park on the property’s north side. The jury remarked that the dramatic hybrid design would make it a “destination building” cleverly designed to sustain the urbanity of Wilshire on one side while extending the bucolic nature of the park on the other. “The Wilshire façade becomes a kinetic wall, imparting a strong urban experience that changes as you drive by, which is how most Angelenos experience the city,” noted the jury.” “The back façade, a built hillside, is a landscape event that adds a surprising new participatory dimension to Hancock Park. This will be a hill you want to climb.”
Integrating Existing Architectural Fabric
“Re(in)novating LACMA” by Reiser + Umemoto, New York City
Reiser + Umemoto’s aim was “to create a coherent, retroactive masterplan that builds off the campus’ prior successes and seeks to engage and reinvigorate the full breadth of LACMA’s collection.” The three-pronged approach includes adding new elements in and around the original 1965 buildings, binding them into a new whole. The Cone sits within and atop the Ahmanson; The Bar, an elevated gallery building, transects the campus from north to south, offering an appropriately scaled Wilshire entrance and new gallery space; The Cluster replaces the 1986 building with a series of interior pod-shaped galleries, as well as exterior exhibition space on a reimagined plaza level. “The architects found a way to make the plaza into a connective tissue and strategically make the existing buildings work as an ensemble,” said the jury, which also commended the clear circulation that employed new interstitial spaces to move people through the building’s interior spaces.
“Tabula LACMA” by Barkow Leibinger, Berlin
This “reconstitution” is an unusual hybrid of old and new, as it maintains the scale and context of the original LACMA buildings by reconstructing them with modern, sustainable materials, then interconnecting them with a new plinth form punctured by courtyards. Barkow Leibinger stresses this would “provide spaces for art, delight, and public encounter.” The jury thought this flexible, spacious design addressed the changing role of museums by including a good amount of shopping, cafés, and event venues that urbanize the spaces and engender a lively environment. “There’s a powerful idea of using the area around the pavilions to create a whole new programmed space,” according to the jurors. They enjoyed the rediscovery of the inner plaza and could “imagine these would be great spaces to be in, as well as fun to discover.”
“Reimagining/Restructuring” by Kaya Design, London
Replacing the 1986 building, Kaya Design proposes “to preserve the best elements of the past while creating a more contemporary, multi-use alternative space.” An elevated volume that respects the scale of the existing structures has solid walls on three sides for curatorial flexibility, then opens to the north with an all-glass façade. Circulation into the entrance is through a gentle ramp/walkway leading into the lobby that directs visitors to the other buildings on other floors—the ramps equalizing the importance of all adjacent floors. The new structure is reserved for exhibition space on six above-grade levels, including the interior of the spiral element. “This design achieves a considerable service to the campus, making the east campus more coherent than it’s ever been,” said the jury. “The biological form of the spiral—as ancient as seashells and hurricanes—gives value to the floors it connects.”
According to the Brigade’s other co-chair, writer and designer Joseph Giovannini, the purpose of the competition “was to open and make pubic what has been a closed process, and to present alternatives that inspire and show a way forward for a LACMA that is improved, fresh, and practical, not reduced and compromised.”
Goldin added, “Taken together, we hope these qualities — plus buildings that give LACMA more presence and standing — will convince our civic leaders to hit pause. We also hope that a public poll will push the needle in that same direction: Halt demolition, reconsider the design.”
The Citzens’ Brigade will award $1,500 to each of the six finalist firms. The favorite in each category, after the public voting, will also receive an additional $500.
In addition, nine other firms, whose entries were also deemed meritorious by the competition’s jury, will receive $500 each, and those designs will also be featured on the organization’s website.
Voting is open to the public until May 15 at https://www.surveylegend.com/survey/#/d29yZHByZXNzMTAyMTIy~-M5gywvaOY3ORhPaAxqK Additional images and details for each of the entries can be found at http://savelacma.us/leading-ideas-ground-up/ and http://savelacma.us/leading-ideas-existing/.
“We at The Citizens’ Brigade to Save LACMA are impressed with the creativity, sensitivity, and passion these international architects brought to their ideas, as well as the generosity of their considerable time and effort,” said Giovannini in this morning’s announcement. “Our aim is to open a constructive dialogue about LACMA’s future by offering creative new workable alternatives that will invite the public into a process that better serves the taxpayers of Los Angeles County and the many people around the world who have loved LACMA’s collections for the past 55 years.”
And Goldin agreed. “We are hoping the ideas will spark further reconsideration of the Zumthor plan, and more immediately, convince the County that it must halt demolition.”